Advice and information - An introduction to the North Island
The North Island can be considered, at least in a topographical sense, to be the ‘gentler’ of the two islands; mainly consisting of rolling hills, lush farmland and beautiful beaches. Around 20% of the island is classed as being mountainous, with a central range of major peaks up to 1700m high.
Although the North Island’s land mass is smaller than its southern twin, it boasts a longer and more convoluted coastline with hundreds of deep tranquil harbours, estuaries, inlets and sheltered sandy bays. Despite the North Island being considerably more compact than the South, the island is home to the majority of the country’s population.
Thermal activity abounds in the centre of the North Island, blessing most of the northern and central regions with hot springs and geysers along with a number of active volcanoes. One of New Zealand’s most unique experiences is to dig your own warm spa in the sands at the appropriately named ‘Hot Water Beach’ on the Coromandel Peninsula.
The town of Rotorua is undeniably the centre of this hotbed of geothermal activity, offering up plentiful thermal springs, geysers, bubbling mud pools and over 17 lakes in the immediate region, thanks to extinct (mostly) volcanoes proving to be rather good at storing rainwater.
At the very heart of the North Island lie the crystal clear waters of Lake Taupo, largest and arguably most picturesque of the North Island’s lakes. It is itself a huge volcanic crater, filled over time and still fed by the mountains of the central plateau.
Maori migrants probably arrived in the 13th century from the Polynesian Islands although exact dates are understandably hard to confirm, settling largely in the North Island due to the favourable climate, pleasant environment and plentiful hunting and forage. This trait continues today with 90% of the Maori population living to the north of the Cook Strait.
British explorer Captain James Cook landed in 1769 at the somewhat pessimistically titled Poverty Bay, with the first permanent European town being established in the Bay of Islands at Russell.
The Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Waitangi between the Maori and the British settlers in 1840, declaring British sovereignty over the islands and affording the Maori the same rights as British citizens. Debate still rages as to the exact meaning of some of the documents finer points with differing opinions on both sides being passionately debated. There are issues today that have arisen due to disagreements about the exact wording of the infamous treaty, proof if proof were needed that it’s a good idea to check the small print of anything you sign!
More than half of all New Zealanders live in the island’s northern half with about 1.2 million living in Auckland alone, the largest city in New Zealand and the largest Polynesian city in the world. The smaller city of Wellington based at the southern end of the North Island is the administrative capital city of New Zealand and gateway between the North and South Islands.
You could choose to explore the North Island using your own imagination and navigation skills by simply renting a motorcycle; or if you'd like some help and guidance with your route, accommodation and places to visit you could consider one of our North Island self-guided tours. We can guarantee that you won't fall foul of any Orcs during one of our self-guided tours, unless perhaps you end up partaking in a Lord of the Rings experience or visit the Tongariro National Park (also known as Mordor).